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Hydroponic Agriculture 4.0: Supporting Vertical Farming Operations In An Energy-Intense Market

“If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.” ~ Frank Lane


Hydroponics

Summary

Hydroponics companies are installing desalination systems to treat seawater, convert it to fresh, and pipe it into water-based farming solutions is ingenious. The costs of being the first to market are challenging, and getting to revenue using an equipment and energy-intense solution requires skilled labor, 24x7 support, and a renewable energy system plan. Some say the industry is still a hobby farm practice, while others are scaling their operations, intending to decouple farming from soil-based platforms. Does a hydroponic farmer need feasibility studies for water and renewable energy systems? Is desalination the solution to urban farming near seawater? The sentiment might be that there is so much noise around the industry, and it's in a disruptive state of affairs. Hydroponic agriculture 4.0 begins with evaluating the cost of a farmer’s main challenges, energy & water.


The Cost Of Building & Maintaining Hydroponic Systems

Using a water-based nutrient system - everything is well planned; the plants receive irrigation and nutrients on a loop without losing its value. I remember working on an anaerobic digester project in North Carolina; we installed a 700 kW digester to manage manure, building an additional revenue stream to sell electricity while eliminating the farmer’s power bill. That same pig farmer, a year later, decided to set up some greenhouses, ran PVC pipe and water to the site, and started growing tomatoes hydroponically. He met manure-based environmental requirements and cut energy costs while creating a new enterprise. That anaerobic digester uses the methane produced to heat the boiler, which heats water and provides warmth to the buildings.


The farmer closed the loop on energy expenses and added three new revenue sources to his top line. He sells energy to the local utility company, leaving a healthy spread for additional revenues as he expands and, in addition, marketing the anaerobically digested solids (decomposed poop) for regenerative farming—finally, his profits from selling the hydroponically grown tomatoes to the local grocery distributor. All on the backbone of securing renewable energy resources for his business.



Lettuce Indoor Farming

Sundrop Farms

Farms throughout Australia struggle with two issues: fuel costs and drought. Livestock farmers and abattoirs are converting their manure and wastewater to electricity, mitigating operational and environmental expenses. Fuel costs exceed $2.00/liter, and propane can amount to over 30% of a farm’s expenses. Sundrop Farms, a hydroponic farm growing tomatoes and other vegetables, got in front of the issues, integrating solar and long-term storage systems to manage heat and electricity costs. They added connectors and pumps directly to their local seawater source; through reverse osmosis, Sundrop removed salinity, creating a freshwater flow for the grow houses. Their solar management system produces heat, electricity, and water pumping resources for greenhouse usage. They built a renewable energy platform, which helped reduce the overhead.


Hydroponic Agriculture 4.0 - Technology

Business intelligence is critical to developing the next generation of farming and agricultural paradigms. Agritecture is doing this very thing - changing the direction of hydroponic farm planning and development. Their systems help understand the initial investment, personnel, and environmental solutions.

Hydroponic Agriculture


Desalination Plants

A desalination solution begins with filtration, pumping solutions, membranes for storage, electrical controllers, and chemical feeding controls. Most systems are manufactured in stainless steel, but atoxic PV can be used for lower pressure. It is essential to partner with organizations equipped with energy recovery systems. Ten desalination plants in the U.S. are dedicated to converting brackish water through reverse osmosis. Do economics make sense for cities with limited space to grow vertical hydroponic vegetables for largely populated areas?




Texas’ Largest Vertical Hydroponic Farm

Eddy Badrina, CEO of Eden Green Technology in Dallas-Fort Worth, recently launched the largest hydroponic operation in Texas. The year-round production estimates an output of 1.8 million pounds per year. All but 10% of the annual harvest is spoken for, and some stock will go to families and organizations in need. The plant is 83,000 sq/ft, and the total investment is roughly $47M. The company hasn’t clarified its objectives to install total renewable energy, wind or solar, to assist with energy costs.




Wrapping It Up

Analysts predict the hydroponics market will be valued at over $4B in the coming years. The market size was valued at USD 2.1 billion in 2020. It is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.7% from 2021 to 2028. Hydroponic farming can be a viable market, and if costs for energy are mitigated early, scalability will ramp rather quickly.










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